Lectionary Reflection for the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

From Matthew (BTCB) by Stanley Hauerwas, commenting on Matthew 25: 14-30

 No parable has been more misused than Jesus’s parable of the talents. Once any parable is abstracted from Jesus proclamation of the kingdom, once any parable is divorced from its apocalyptic context, misreading is inevitable. Speculation begins, for example, about how much a talent might be or whether the master’s observation that the money could have been put in a bank might mean that Jesus approves of taking interest. Speculative uses of the parable have even been employed to justify economic practices that are antithetical to Jesus’s clear judgment that we cannot serve God and mammon. Jesus is not using this parable to recommend that we should work hard, make all we can, to give all we can. Rather, the parable is a clear judgment against those who think they deserve what they have earned, as well as those who do not know how precious is the gift they have been given.

 The slaves have not earned their five, two, and one talents. They have been given those talents. In the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:1–9), Jesus had indicated that those called to the kingdom would produce different yields. Those differences should not be the basis for envy and jealousy, because our differences are gifts given in service to one another. So are the talents given to the slaves of the man going on a journey. It is not unfair that the slaves were given different amounts. Rather, what is crucial is how they regarded what they had been given. Jesus makes clear in this parable that we can do only what we have been given.

 The one who received one talent feared the giver. He did so because he assumed that the giver had given a gift that could only be lost or used up. In other words the one with one talent assumed that he or she was part of a zero-sum game. Those who assume that life is a zero-sum game think that if one person receives an honor then someone else is made poorer. So the slave with one talent feared losing what he had been given, with the result that he tried to turn the gift into a possession. In contrast, the first two slaves recognized that to try to secure the gifts they had been given means that the gifts would be lost. The joy of the wedding banquet and the joy into which the master invites his slaves that had not tried to protect what they had been given is the joy that comes from learning to receive a gift without regret.

 The parable of the talents and the parable of the ten bridesmaids are commentaries on the slave who continued to work, to feed his fellow slaves, until his master returns. Each of these parables teach us how to wait patiently as those who have received the gift of being called to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus’s disciples are not called to do great things, although great things may happen. Rather, Jesus’s disciples are called to do the work that Jesus has given us to do—work as simple and hard as learning to tell the truth and to love our enemies. Such work is the joy that our master invites us to share.

 ©2006 by Stanley Hauerwas. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.